Germanic Tribes: The Franks


Figure 1.--Muslim forces swept across North Africa and then easily defeating the Viigoths in Spain. They then crssed the Pyreness. The only force that stood between them and the conquest of Christian Western Europe was the Frankish army organized by Charles Martel. The two armies met at Tours / Pottiers (732). It would be the furthest Muslim advance into Western Europe. The Frankish victory made possible the survival of Western Chrisendom and the develoment of Western Civilizatn. This dramatic view was pained by Baron Charles Auguste Guillaume Steuben, the German-born French Romantic painter, 1837).

The Franks were one of the western Germanic tribes. The Franks spanned the ancient and early medieval era. None of the Germanic triibes played a more important role in the development on modern Europe thn the Franks. Medieval sources based on lost Roman works suggest that the Franks came from Pannonia (eastern Hungary-western Yugoslavia), but moved west to the Rhine. [Gregory] They settled along the Rhine River (3rd century). There were two major tribal groups, the Salien Franks in the north and the Ripuarian Franks in the south. The Salian Franks crossed the Rhine into Gaul and became Roman allies (4th century). The Franks like the other Germaic tribes did not at first have any kind of unified political organization, but rather were organized into small groups that would constantly form changing alliances or confederations to fight neigboring groups. Emperor Julian found the shipping lanes on the Rhine under control of the Franks and had to pacify them (355–58). Rome granted much of Gallia Belgica to the Franks. This made them a foederati of the Roman Empire. The Franks from this core holding proceeded to conquer much of Gaul north of the Loire valley and east Aquitaine held by the Visigoths. As Roman allies they assisted in defending the Empire. They resisted an invasion of eastern Germanic tribes attempting to cross the Rhine (406). Theodoric the Ostrogoth fought with them. At the same time the Romans resisted the spread of Frankish control south into Gaul (431). [Gregory] The general pattern, however, was for the Franks to become rulers over the Gallo-Roman inhabitants of Gaul. Aëtius was able to convince the Visigoths and Franks to join him in stopping Atilla the Hun in his campaign into Gaul. The Salian Franks joined him. The Ripuarian Franks were divided, probably because part of the tribe lived beyond the borders of rhe Empire and were under Hun control. The result was the Battle of Châlons (451). This was one of the decisive battle of history and Attilas only defeat. It is often seen as the last battle of the ancient world. The emergence of the Franks as a major force in European history after the fall of Rome was largely due to a youthful tribal leader--Clovis. He suceeded in uniting the fractious Franks (481). Clovis conveted to Christianity and founded the Merovingoan dynasty. Clovis and his descendents conquered much of western and central Europe. The Frankish Empire created by Clovis was divided into several kingdoms (Neustria, Austrasia, Burgundy, and others). The Carolingian dunasty appeared (8th century) which saw the reign of Charmagbe. Evetually his empire was divided . The Treaty of Mersen (870) created the kigdom of the West Franks (France) and East Franks (Grmany).

Western Germanic Tribes

The Franks were one of the western Germanic tribes. None of the Germanic triibes played a more important role in the development on modern Europe thn the Franks.

Origins

Medieval sources based on lost Roman works suggest that the Franks came from Pannonia (eastern Hungary-western Yugoslavia), but moved west to the Rhine. [Gregory] They settled along the Rhine River (3rd century). There were two major tribal groups, the Salien Franks in the north and the Ripuarian Franks in the south.

Sub-tribes

One of the most important sub-tribes were the Salii, often referred to as the Salian Franks. The Salii are first reoorted in northern Europe appearing beyond the Roman limes (fortified positions) beyond the Rhine in what wiuld now be the Netherlands and northwestern Germany. The Salii are important because they evolved into the Merovingian kingdom that would conquer Gaul and lay the foundation for much of modern Western Europe. The Romans first mention them as a warlike Germanic people and pirates, but as time became Laeti (allies). They were the first Germanic tribe to settled permanently west of the Rhine on Roman land--Toxandria. They reached an agreement with the Romans to settle in Toxandria (358). Toxabdria was what might be called northern Belgium and the southern Neterlands. The Salii seem to have been aelated, but not fully Frankish people, but gradually adopted a Frankish identity. Eventually they no longer even called themselves Salii (7th century). Eventually they unified the Franks under their royal line.

Roman Allies

Roman power began to decline (4th century AD). They were no longer able to maintain the Rhine as the boundary of the Empire. The Salian Franks pressured from the East, crossed the Rhine north of Gaul and became at times Roman allies (4th century). The Romans granted the Franks land in what is now the Low Lands west of the Rhine and north of the important road--Toxandria. The road streached from from Boulogne on the coast to Cologne on the Rhine. the Franks for a time served as Roman mercenaries. Other Franls continued to live east of the Rhine. The Franks like the other Germaic tribes did not at first have any kind of unified political organization, but rather were organized into small groups that would constantly form changing alliances or confederations to fight neigboring groups. Emperor Julian found the shipping lanes on the Rhine under control of the Franks and had to pacify them (355–58). Rome granted much of Gallia Belgica to the Franks. This made them a foederati of the Roman Empire. The Franks from this core holding proceeded to conquer much of Gaul north of the Loire valley and east Aquitaine held by the Visigoths. As Roman allies they assisted in defending the Empire. They resisted an invasion of eastern Germanic tribes attempting to cross the Rhine (406). Theodoric the Ostrogoth fought with them. At the same time the Romans resisted the spread of Frankish control south into Gaul (431). [Gregory] The general pattern, however, was for the Franks to become rulers over the Gallo-Roman inhabitants of Gaul.

Battle of Châlons (451)

The battle of Châlons is commonly seen variously as either the last battle of the ancient world or the first battle of the medieval Europe. The Western Empire still existed in name, but was a shadow of its formerself. The Western Emperor controlled only Italy and claimed control over Gaul (France) and Spain which were in fact controlled by warloards who challenged Roman forces. Gaul was only nomimally a part of the Western Empire in the mid-5th century. The Visagoths were contending with the Romans for control of Gaul. The Huns had grown to be a huge challenge to both the Eastern and Western Empire. Rome had used the Huns as mercinaries to hold the Visagoths in check. The Roman commander in Gaul, Aëtius, was a boyhood friend of Atilla the Hun. Atilla comanded the most powerful military force in Europe. Atilla and the Huns practiced war with a vengence, devestating the lands they invaded. He was known as the Scourge of God in the now Chritianized Roman Empire. Aëtius was the only Roman commander with a creditable force. Having drained the Eastern Empire trasury and plundered much of its European possesions, Atilla determined that the rewards of plunder lay in the West. It is at this time that a daughter of the Western Emperor send Atilla her ring. Demanding a dowery of half of the Empire, Atilla moved west. The havoc and devastation he wrought in Gaul was passed down in Medieval folklore. Aëtius was able to convince the Visigoths and Franks to join him in stopping Atilla the Hun in his campaign into Gaul. The Salian Franks joined him. The Ripuarian Franks were divided, probably because part of the tribe lived beyond the borders of rhe Empire and were under Hun control. The result was the Battle of Châlons (451). This was one of the decisive battle of history and Attilas only defeat.

The Merovingians

The emergence of the Franks as a major force in European history after the fall of Rome was largely due to a youthful tribal leader -- Clovis (466?-511). He suceeded in uniting the fractious Franks (481). He was noted for his physical bravery and duplicity. Clovis conveted to Christianity and made the Merovingoan dynasty. He set up an independent state centered at at Tournai (431 AD). Clovis I defeated the Roman remanant and gained control of Gaul. He built a powerful kingdom by assimilated the largely Romanized Cektic population of Gaul with his Frankish peoples. Relatively little is known about Gaul during this period, in part because that learming declined and we have few written acounts. There appears tobhave been a general societal decline. One grave study shows a general decline in the quality of grave goods during the Merovingian era. Lobell, pp. 49-50.] Clovis while uniting the Franks and unifying Gaul left a terrible situation in that his four sons claimed a part of the kingdom. Clovis and his successors, however, conquered much of western Europe, included modern France and Belgium and areas of southwestern Germany. The Frankish Kingdom created by Clovis was divided into several kingdoms (Neustria, Austrasia, Burgundy, and others). Clovis converted to Christianity brining the Franks into developing Christian Europe. The Franks after Clovis, however, began to splinter and the Merovingians began to decline. It was at the end of the Merovingian rule rht Charles Martel defeated the Islamic army at tours. Charles would go on to found the Carolingian Dynasty.

Salic Law

One of the most important cultural legacies of the Franks is the Salic law (Lex Salica). It is the first body of traditional Germanic law to be codified. It was codified for use in governing the Salian Franks by King Clovis I during the early Medevil period (about 510). Although codified at that time, it is a body of traditional German law that dates back to ancient times. The single best known tenant is the exckusion of females from the inheriting a throne or fief--agnatic succession. (salic Law is sometimes used as a synonym for agnatic succession. Salic law is, however, much more imprtant. Salic Law along with Roman Law (passed through canon or ecleasiastical law) is the foundation aling with the Naploeonic Code are the foundation for the modern legal system in much of modern Europe.

Visagoths

The Visigoths, commonly known as just the Goths, were a Germanic tribe. They are first noted by the Romans as living in the Danube delta area (modern Romania/Ukraine). Alaric I was the first important leader. They were driven west by Huns who emerged from the Steppe. This put pressure on the declining Roman Empire trying to keep the German tribes east of the Rhine and noth of the Danube. Emperor Theodosius negotiated a treaty making the Visigoths the first independent barbarian nation within the Roman Empire (382 AD). Alaric I led the Visigoths as part of the Roman army fought the Huns (384). Theodosius spilt the empire between his sons Honorius and Acradius. This was the brginning of the divide between thecEastern and Western Empires. The Visigoths upon the death of Theodosius, ended their alliance with Rome (395). Just as the Roman Empire had granted the Franks land in northern Gaul, the Empire had granted the Goths (Visagoths) land in southern Gaul. This eventually with the fall of the Romn Empire led to conflict between the Franks and Visagoths. Eventually the Franks under Clovis drove the Visagoths south beyond the Pyrenees Mountains. Here they founded Christian kingdoms which rules for two centuries until being overwealmed by Islamic Moorish invaders from North Africa.

Iron

One reason for the Frankish success was iron. Steel was known since ancient times, but only for weapos like swords. There was more iron in northern Europe than around the Mediterranean basin. The metal was very expensive, but the discovery of new mines helped to lower the price. Cost was important because costly arms limited the size of an army a leader could build. As the cost of arm weapons came down, it mean that the Franks could arm more men. This also had an impact on the economy. This process continued and by the 9th century the price had declined to the point that it began to be used for tools and other non-military uses. The impact was to increase productivity meaning wealth. Farmers could plow more land and more effectively with an iron plow than a wooden plow which increased farm yields. This was an important developmnt in societies where wealth was primarily based on agriculture. It was an important factor in Europe's emergence from the Dark Ages.

Moorish Invasion: Battle of Poitiers/Tours (732)

The Moors from North Africa invaded Visigothic Spain (711). Over the space of only a few years, the Moors almost totally dominated the Peninsula. Muslim armies then ventured across the Pyrenees and established a foothold in southwest France. They then began to move further north. The Moorish and Frankish armies met at Poitiers/Tours (732). The move north was defeated at the Battle by a Frankish army under Charles Martel. While only a relatively minor military scirmish, along with a victory in the East by Byzantine forces led by Emperor Leo III, the phase of rapid advance by Arab armies ended. The Moors then withdrew south of the Pyrenees. They never again seriously threatened France. Charles Martel would go on to found a powerful state, the foundation of modern France. The Moors were left in control of almost the entire Iberian Pensinsula except for a few small Christian enclaves in the rugged northhwest. Poitiers had been an important Roman town and a residence of the Visogothic kings until defeated by the Franks under Clovis. The Battle of Poitiers/Tours pitted the Franks against the until then undefeated Muslim forces. The Franks were the most powerful force in Western Christendom. Had they been defeated it is difficult to see what other Christian force could have resisted the Moors, changing the entire course of workd history. Charles assembled a large force, in part financed from funds secured from the monastaries. He drilled his forces knowing the the Moors were headed north. He chose a strong defensive position. The Moors until this point after defeating King Roderick in southern Spain had encountered only small poorly trained bands. They were shocked when they encountered Charles' army. The Moorish Army was commanded by Abd-er Rahman, governor of Spain. Few reliable accouns of the battle exist. As a result, the Moorish army is variously estimasted to number 60,000 to 400,000 soldiers. After assaling cities in southern Fance, Abd-er Rahman headed north up the Loire River. Here Charles set up his position just outside the city of Tours in central France south of Paris. The two sides held their position for nearly a week facing each other. Abd-er Rahman was forced to initiate the battle as it was October and cold weather was approaching. The Frankish army was mostly infantry and Charles used a phalanx style of combat. Abd-er Rahman ordered a frontal attack, relying on the slashing tactics and massive superiority in calvary that had brought victories in Spain. The Frankish infantry was armed with swords, shields, axes, javelins, and daggers. They were better trained than the Visagoth armies encountered in Spain. Charles choice of the battlefield proved decisive because it limited the mobility of the Moorish calvalry. Tours was one of the few medieval battles in which infantry managed to resist sustained mounted attacks. Accounts of the battle report it lasted any where from 4-7 days. A Frankish attack on the Moorish camp behind their lines appeas to have resulted in a collapse of the Moorish front. The Franks captured and killed Abd-er Rahman. The Muslim army then withdrew from Tours overnight and retired back accross the Pyranees. Charles believed there would be another Moorish offensive, but it never came. The battle thus proved to be the high water mark of the Moslem invasion of Western Europe, although Saracen raiders would menace the West for some time and they controlled most of the Iberiann Peninsula..

Carolingian Dynasty

The Franks were again unified under Pepin III (the Short) (751). Pepin deposed the last Merovingian ruler and founded a new dynasty--the Carolingians. The dynasty is named after his son--Charlemagne. Charlemagne succeeded his father (768). He is one of the great figures in European history. Charlemagne ruled for nearly half a century. He expanded the Frankish empire to include almost all of continental Europe, except for Moorish Spain and Scandinavia in the north. Pope Leo III crowned him Emperor of the West (800). Charlemagne was primarily involved with the military campigns that carved out his far-flung empire. He was for a war leader, a remarable individual--interested in culture and learning. He promoted commerce, education, and the arts. Charlemagne saw his empire as the revival of the Roman Empire that ironically the Franks had played a role in destroying. He thus sought to revive clasical learning. It was Chaerlemage that fostered the beginnings of organized river trade that would play a major role in the development of the Low Countries. Charlemagne's sons divided his empire. Conflict and a series of battles eventually led to Treaty of Verdun (843). Three of Charlemagne's grandsons split the empire between them. Charles the Bold took West Francia which eventually would evolve into France. Lothair took the Middle Kingdom, but it would fragment into ztates that would evolve into the small modern states between France and Germany. Louis the German took East Francia which would evolve into modern Germany. The Treaty of Mersen confirmed the divisons (870) created the kigdom of the West Franks (France) and East Franks (Germany).

Sources

Gregory of Tours. Historia Francorum

Lobell, Jarrett A. "Auul after the Romans: A cemeter in northwetern France is beginning to expand our knowledge of the emergence of the Merovingian dynasty," Archaeology (January-February 2015), pp. 48-50.






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Created: 3:33 AM 3/6/2007
Last updated: 8:26 AM 7/25/2018